Lebanon will not emerge from its historical plight, represented by the existence of a predatory political-oligarchy-religious class dominated by Hezbollah, anytime soon, and the best that the Lebanese can do in this critical period is to help the army.
Since the forties of the last century, Arab armies led by officers with unbridled ambitions carried out military coups that undermined the political systems in countries such as Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and later Yemen, Algeria and Libya and put these countries on the path of political oppression and economic failure and caused counter-revolutions and civil and regional wars that squandered the wealth of these countries and connected some of them. To the brink of disintegration and collapse, it has raised doubts and questions about their viability as viable nations.
What we see today in Lebanon is contrary to this Arab pattern that has existed for more than seventy years. In Lebanon, there is an oligarchic, sectarian, predatory, corrupt, and mafia political class par excellence, which has led the country over dozens of years, but specifically in the past two years to an economic collapse that a country has rarely witnessed in modern times, as the value of the Lebanese pound collapsed by 90 percent against the dollar on the black market, and became more Half of the Lebanese people are below the poverty line.
For the first time in its more than 75-year history, the Lebanese army finds itself threatened by this Lebanese political class that deprived the soldiers not only of medical materials, fuel and other basic materials needed by any army, but also deprived them of even eating meat in their daily meals. and forced them to seek second and third jobs to provide the minimum amount of food for their families. In other words, this is the first political system in a country in the Middle East that works to undermine the only national institution that used to provide the minimum level of security in the country, and in its ranks represented the various sects of the Lebanese people.
The armed forces were not completely free from the scourges of the Lebanese society, its divisions, and its sectarian, sectarian and political loyalties, and this is not surprising because it is part of the Lebanese social structure. But after the army split along sectarian polarizations during the early years of the civil war, it regrouped in a relatively better way. The bitter experience of the first years of war between the Lebanese themselves and the Lebanese and the armed Palestinian organizations showed that the collapse of the armed forces, despite its structural problems, and its exposure to the harmful influence of Lebanese politicians, especially the influence and pressure of Hezbollah, will lead to the collapse of Lebanese society into a new internal war that may eliminate it as a state. uniform.
Last March, the commander of the Lebanese army, General Joseph Aoun, did what no previous Lebanese army commander did, when he criticized the ruling political class, due to the deteriorating conditions that the Lebanese army has reached (along with the Lebanese society as a whole), when he said, “The military are suffering and starving.” like the people.” He addressed the Lebanese politicians directly, saying: “Where are we going, what do you intend to do? We have warned more than once of the seriousness of the situation and the possibility of an explosion.” In a remarkable warning, he showed that General Aoun knows of threats and ambushes much more dangerous than what he says publicly, adding, “If some aim to strike and dismantle the army, they know that dismantling the army means the end of the Lebanese entity, this thing is impossible to happen. eligibility) will not be repeated.
Of course, General Aoun’s warnings did not change or even modify somewhat the behavior of President Michel Aoun, who behaves as if he had nothing to do with the tragic Lebanese reality, or with the behavior of the caretaker government, the president charged with establishing a new government, the governor of the Banque du Liban or the rest of the ruling class.
In the past weeks and days, European countries moved at the initiative of France, with the support of the United States, and with the participation of other countries, including Russia and the Gulf Arab states, to provide some types of emergency support to the Lebanese Armed Forces to prevent them from collapsing, including medicines, food, fuel and other types of material support. But this aid will not include providing direct financial support to pay the salaries of the Lebanese soldiers after their salaries collapse, because the laws of these countries (Western, including the United States) prevent the provision of salaries to the soldiers of allied countries. Before the beginning of the collapse of the lira in 2019, the salary of a Lebanese soldier was about 800 dollars a month, now this salary has shrunk to less than a hundred dollars.
What is happening today is that the Western countries that still have the minimum interest in Lebanon and its stability are “weathers” of the Lebanese army, to save the only institution around which there is a Lebanese consensus. These countries are aware of what Lebanon’s politicians, warlords in the past, and the current warlord with the privilege of “Mr.” Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the so-called Hezbollah militia, do not want to admit, that the collapse of the Lebanese army means, as General Aoun said, the collapse of Lebanon. This dire situation of the Lebanese soldiers led to the collapse of their morale, and led to an increase in the number of soldiers who failed to return to their units, and pushed others to early retirement.
Hezbollah’s dominance of political decision-making in Lebanon, and its service to Iran’s subversive policies in some Arab countries, and President Michel Aoun’s complicity with Hezbollah in restricting the scope of the operations of the International Emergency Forces in southern Lebanon (UNIFIL) to serve Hezbollah elements, and the Lebanese army’s reluctance to assist UNIFIL and deterring Hezbollah’s actions were among the reasons that prompted countries such as Saudi Arabia to stop their military aid to Lebanon.
The US military aid represents the largest source of external support for the Lebanese army, as the total of this aid since 2007 has reached more than two billion dollars. In the past three years, the average annual US military aid has exceeded $100 million (it reached 120 million in fiscal year 2021), in addition to an additional $100 million to help the Lebanese control border security and train Lebanese officers. Last May, the United States announced that it would hand over three gunboats to Lebanon as a gift to the Coast Guard. Weeks ago, the commander of the Central Forces that oversees US forces in the Middle East, General Frank McKenzie, said that Washington is committed to continuing to support the Lebanese army, “because it represents the official Lebanese institution that is very well active, and we believe that it should remain the only expression of military power in the Lebanese state.” “, in a clear reference to Hezbollah’s weapons.
The emergency aid to the Lebanese army is a temporary bandage in the best of cases, and it will not solve the existential dangers facing the army in the foreseeable and distant future, especially since the Lebanese politicians will not reach anytime soon to form a responsible and effective government that can accept the conditions of international financial institutions and donor countries by providing loans. Important and technical assistance to revive the economy according to a transparent reform program.
The serious challenges facing the Lebanese army must lead to a radical reconsideration of its doctrine, structure, and training. The armed forces do not need an air force that includes fixed-wing warplanes because it cannot confront the Israeli air force, even the Syrian one, with these planes, and they are not useful in fighting against internal military challenges (the battles of Nahr al-Bared, and Arsal for example). Also, the ground forces do not need heavy or even medium tanks. What the army needs is to reorganize its units to serve as a national guard that includes combat units and special forces that enjoy speed of movement and flexibility and use helicopters for logistical purposes, relief work and transporting soldiers, in addition to combat helicopters equipped with missiles to provide air cover for ground forces in any internal operations or even as an initial military response to aggression external. This means providing the ground forces with fast armed vehicles to quickly transport the special forces to the battlefield after getting rid of the heavy armor. In this context, the Lebanese army must invest in acquiring short-range surface-to-surface missiles that can be moved and hidden quickly, in addition to small drones, to compel any of its neighbors to think in advance that there is a minimum level of military deterrence. In this context, the Lebanese army can benefit from lessons learned from the use of missiles and drones in recent regional conflicts.
The Lebanese navy could be entirely composed of armed speedboats to guard and monitor the coasts, some of which would be equipped with missiles to keep enemy ships out of the territorial waters. But any change in the structure of the armed forces must lead to getting rid of the current slack, and focus first, second and finally on training, then better training. Lebanon can benefit from the fact that the best Arab special forces are owned by small countries with their population, such as the UAE and Jordan, and only because these forces either gained combat experience (the Emirati forces that fought alongside the American forces in more than one conflict, including Afghanistan) or because of their good training ( Emirates and Jordan). Reorganizing the forces may require reducing the number of army forces, and focusing on the quality and training of the military and not on their number.
The Lebanese army has historically suffered from a large glut among its senior officers, who flaunt their stars and medals as if they had achieved exemplary field victories. Before the current financial crisis, this pampered military class, with its high salaries and the services it received from transportation to free fuel, end-of-service compensation and the subsequent monthly retirement, took a large part of the military budget.
And a recent article published by researcher David Schenker (former assistant secretary of state for Middle Eastern affairs) stated that the Lebanese army, with its 80,000 soldiers, has 400 senior officers (generals and colonels), compared to the American ground forces, which number up to half a million soldiers, which are led by 295 A senior officer, according to statistics 2020. After the Lebanese high-ranking officer retires, he receives a large pension that he receives upon his retirement, in addition to a monthly pension, a car with its driver and free fuel. This is an unjustified waste that no general or colonel deserves, especially those who did not fight to protect the homeland, even if the country’s economy was in good health. Eliminating this waste will save millions of dollars in the defense budget, and will greatly contribute to building a lean and lethal fighting force.
Lebanon’s future requires stopping the current collapse in all sectors and institutions, most notably the army, or at least slowing down the speed of the collapse. The Lebanese rallying around their armed forces and their belief in the need to maintain them is positive and encouraging. But supporting the Lebanese army, with the hope of restructuring and rehabilitating it, does not mean continuing that old Lebanese ritual represented by the romantic view of the Lebanese army. I say this while I am “Ibn Qobayat”, the generous and proud Akkari town that, over many decades, presented its youth to serve in the Lebanese Army, and I am proud to say that my father and three uncles served with honor and dedication in the Lebanese Army. The Lebanese, who believe in the importance of maintaining the military institution, as the only force that possesses legitimate weapons in the country, must offer this army some “tough love,” as the Americans say. This means discussing the future of the army from a critical perspective, such as insisting on a professional, skinny, and absolutely disciplined leadership elite that is not financially spoiled and does not receive more benefits and services than its salaries provide. Such a modern institution must accept constructive criticism, and not act defensively and spontaneously if, for example, legitimate questions are raised about Hezbollah’s penetration of the armed forces.
Lebanon will not emerge from its historical plight of a predatory political-oligarchic-religious class dominated by Hezbollah, any time soon. The best thing that the Lebanese can do in this critical period, and before the arrival of political solutions that are still far away, is to help the army to help itself by radically rebuilding its units and changing its fighting doctrine, purging itself of sectarian scourge, and transforming it into a national force that protects the homeland and its people. And his sovereignty is the enemies of the outside and the inside.